Chef Jim's Nacho Soup

*Originally posted October 2018

The fall weather is settling in, kids are back in the classroom, and school cafeterias are bustling once again. But what exactly is happening in the cafeteria? What are the meals like? Through our Farm to School work, we’re supporting school nutrition teams in improving the meals our children eat every day. And change is happening: trays are more and more often filled with nutritious, delicious, local foods. But you can’t always put a healthy meal together and simply expect a child to eat it. A little imagination is key.

Chef Jim McCarthy's Nacho Soup Inn & Restaurant Executive Chef Jim McCarthy knows this well. He is no stranger to school kitchens. He has worked to train school nutrition professionals in incorporating healthful, fresh foods into their recipes that kids will eat.

“I developed this recipe while training staff in the South Burlington School system,” Chef Jim says. “I was constantly looking around for new and innovative recipes using ingredients I could find easily in a school setting. After making a dish with tortilla chips, I noticed all of the broken bits I was about to throw in the trash, and realized I could still use them… somehow.” He came up with the solution — a blended soup.

When serving the meal to students the following day, “None of the kids were excited about it,” Chef Jim remembers. “But then, one kid commented that it tasted like nachos– EUREKA!” The soup was dubbed “Nacho Soup” and became an instant hit. “The kids got excited, were willing to try it, and they loved it,” he recalls. “What’s more, it allowed the schools to utilize product that would otherwise go in the compost.”

Chef Jim working with cafeteria staff at Milton High School during the 2018 Child Nutrition Programs Summer Institute Chef Jim’s tips: Save up chip bits until there’s enough for a full batch of the recipe. Don’t worry if they go stale, it won’t matter once they’re blended into the soup. If you’d prefer a thicker soup, only use one or two 28oz. cans of vegetable stock. Cheddar cheese is an ideal topping.

Nacho Soup

Makes about 1 gallon of soup (about 16 portions)


  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 green pepper,  seeded and diced
  • 1 jalapeño (optional), seeded and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 T oil
  • 1 28oz. can whole tomatoes
  • 3 28oz. cans vegetable stock or water
  • 6 oz. tortilla chips (or about what’s left over from 2-3 bags of tortilla chips)
  • 1 t chili powder
  • ½ t cumin
  • ½ t coriander
  • 1 T rice vinegar
  • Salt to taste


  1. Place the onions, peppers, jalapeño (if using), garlic, oil, and a pinch of salt in a large (1.5 gallon) pot and place over medium heat. Sweat the vegetables until translucent; about 5-6 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, vegetable stock (or water), and tortilla chips into the pot and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat.
  3. Purée the soup using a hand-held stick blender or in batches in a table-top blender. If using the table-top blender, be very careful: hot liquids can become very volatile. Work in batches,  and don’t fill the blender more than 1/3 of the way.
  4. Season the finished soup with the chili powder, cumin, coriander, and rice vinegar. Taste and season with salt to your liking. Depending on which chips you use, it may take more or less to get to where you’d like it.
  5. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh cilantro if desired. The soup will keep for several days in the refrigerator or many months in the freezer.

Together with NOFA Vermont, our Farm to School project, Vermont FEED, works to connect the cafeteria, classroom, and community so kids have a real understanding of nutrition, and where their food comes from, including the meals they eat in school.


Posted by Sarah Webb

October 1, 2020

Add new comment